NYT & CNN Playing Catch Up on Challenging Government

A subject alternative sites like Consortium News have been writing about for years is now being approached by The New York Times and CNN, writes Joe Lauria.

Jake Tapper of CNN. (nrkbeta/Flickr)

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Consortium News was founded by Robert Parry in 1995 after he left the Associated Press and Newsweek because he became fed up with the mainstream media for trusting government rather than challenging it. Since that time, including after Parry’s untimely death in 2018, a cornerstone of Consortium News has been demanding evidence from government when they make anonymous claims without proof especially on the gravest matter of taking the United States to war. 

Consortium News was among the first news outlets to challenge the U.S. government’s baseless claim that weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a reason to invade that country.  A jingoistic corporate media, on the other hand, played a crucial role in facilitating that disastrous war, which violated international law and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people.  For their efforts, Parry and other writers at Consortium News were smeared as Saddam stooges. But today, hardly anyone in Washington disputes that the 2003 Iraq invasion was one of the greatest foreign policy blunders in U.S. history.  

Consortium News was also among the first to challenge the maniacal mainstream coverage of Russiagate, also presented without evidence.  CN was proven right after the $32 million investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller showed no evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, and after CrowdStrike’s president testified to Congress that there was no evidence of a hack of Democratic National Committee computer servers (the two main Russiagate allegations.)  Nonetheless Parry and other CN writers were smeared as Putin puppets. 

On both scores Consortium News was proven right, but were condemned as being agents of hostile foreign powers. 

Challenging government assertions and demanding proof is the very purpose of CN’s being in an era of corporate media malpractice. Uncritically rushing out unvetted whispers from unnamed U.S.  intelligence sources has been the hallmark of the most influential media outlets during this period. 

Parry came out of a tradition in journalism in which it was not unusual even for mainstream reporters to ask government to back up what they said with evidence.  But that has not been the case for at least the last 30 years.

One can trace the rapid decline of corporate media to the establishment of Fox News by Rupert Murdoch in 1996. Fox shed any pretense of neutral journalism and plowed full bore into Republican Party ideology.  It was so successful that it destroyed CNN and MSNBC in ratings, eventually leading those networks to turn into Democratic Party ideologues, sealing the fate of TV journalism today.

With Russiagate, the Times and other newspapers followed suit. (At least the Times apologized to its readers for being cheerleaders for the Iraq invasion.) Democratic media viciously attacked President Donald Trump any chance it could, especially on the Russiagate fable, but solidly supported him as “presidential” as soon as he dropped bombs on a country.

Smearing Skepticism on Ukraine

In the drive towards war over Ukraine, Consortium News has in the past days and weeks published numerous articles from many different angles challenging U.S. government assertions about Russian intentions. For this we have again been rewarded with the smear of being Kremlin propagandists. 

The Mainstream Reacts

But then something happened. Matt Lee, the Associated Press’ State Department correspondent, one of the last reporters in Washington out of the tradition Parry came from, challenged the department’s spokesman, former C.I.A. official Ned Price, to back up intelligence allegations that Russia was planning an elaborate false flag video to create a pretext to invade Ukraine. 

Unable to provide the evidence, Price resorted to smearing Lee for taking “solace” in Russian messaging. It was the same type of McCarthyite attack that White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki leveled on a reporter for asking about the government’s account of an operation in Syria last week and even on a sitting U.S. senator.  It is one thing to smear alternative media and another to tar the mainstream, which the government needs to prosecute its wars.

The reaction from the mainstream was swift. It began with a series of tweets the same day as the Price-Lee exchange by The Washington Post‘s national political reporter Felicia Sonmez, who wrote, “It’s the job of reporters to ask for proof to back up government statements. Doing so does not mean one believes propaganda put out by U.S. adversaries.”

“It’s over. They’ve lost the press,” wrote one tweeter.  

 

That night on CNN, anchor Jake Tapper broadcast these words:

“What the Biden administration is doing here is saying to journalists, whose jobs are to be skeptical, and let us also note that U.S. intelligence and the Pentagon have not only gotten things wrong before, they have openly lied to the American people before. Then you have Psaki and Price saying, ‘Oh, so you side with our enemies?'”

And then on Friday, Charlie Savage of The New York Times wrote, what was for the Times an extraordinary news analysis, “Why ‘Trust Us’ Is Often Reason Enough Not to Trust the Government.” It began: 

“The dramatic national security stories recounted in two official news briefings on Thursday centered on very different subjects, but they featured the same indignant pushback to questioning reporters: just trust us, unless you are more inclined to believe America’s enemies.” 

The article examined the government’s spin on two stories, the killing by U.S. special forces of the ISIS leader in Syria last week, and the tale of the Russian false flag. 

“Pressed for evidence supporting an official narrative about how children had died during a commando raid in Syria — specifically, that an ISIS leader’s bomb, not American forces, had killed them — the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, seemed to bristle at a suggestion that people might be dubious about the civilian casualties.

‘Skeptical of the U.S. military’s assessment when they went and took out an ISIS terror — the leader of ISIS?’ Ms. Psaki said. ‘That they are not providing accurate information and ISIS is providing accurate information?’

And pushed for evidence supporting his announcement that intelligence showed that Russia had plans to manufacture a pretext to invade Ukraine — a fake video, with hauled-in corpses and ‘crisis actors,’ to frame the Ukrainian military for a genocidal attack on Russian speakers — the State Department spokesman, Ned Price, sharply rejected the idea.

‘We declassify information only when we’re confident in that information,’ Mr. Price said. ‘If you doubt the credibility of the U.S. government, of the British government, of other governments, and want to, you know, find solace in information that the Russians are putting out — that is, that is for you to do.’”

In the most sensitive and consequential government operations, the public is beholden to the narrative of officials — which sometimes turns out to be wrong. Yet officials can be defensive about skepticism from the news media … “

The piece then laid out a short history of U.S. government lying. 

“In 2011, when the Obama administration announced the commando raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, the president’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, said the Qaeda leader had engaged in a firefight and used his wife as a human shield. Days later, the White House walked back its account, saying that bin Laden had been neither armed nor cowering behind a woman.

During the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, officials in President George W. Bush’s administration famously put forth intelligence about purported Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be inaccurate. They also stoked baseless fears that Iraq’s secular dictator, Saddam Hussein, was collaborating with the religious extremists behind the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda.

During the wars in Vietnam and, more recently, in Afghanistan, administration officials under both parties often issued a more optimistic picture of progress to the public than the government’s internal assessments supported. And President Lyndon B. Johnson justified an escalation of the war in Vietnam based on a supposed North Vietnamese attack on an American vessel in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened.”

The article only went so far, however. It  relapsed into default position, adopting the government line that Russia is lying about Ukraine and that the U.S. is nobly trying to stop a war and not trying to trap Russia into one.

“Recognizing that the American government has not always shared credible information and that its statements in such situations should be approached with skepticism is different from equating the United States to ISIS or to Russia, which is notorious for disinformation operations — including a propaganda campaign suggesting that Ukraine is guilty of genocide against its Russian-speaking citizens.

And there are differences that may lend a greater presumption of credibility to the U.S. government’s current claims. The situation on the border between Ukraine and Russia is not like Vietnam or Iraq, for example, in that the United States is trying to deter a conflict, rather than justify or start one.”

Consortium News took up the job that corporate media has failed for so long to do. If the new skepticism displayed by the AP, the Times and CNN has legs, however unlikely, it could lead to a revival of journalism in Washington, but don’t hold your breath.  

“Imagine if this were standard practice for the media,” asked writer and documentary filmmaker Leighton Woodhouse. “How many wars could we have avoided?” 

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe  

 

25 comments for “NYT & CNN Playing Catch Up on Challenging Government

  1. John F Murtha
    February 8, 2022 at 11:11

    Nice article.

    The Times et al, are trying to put out a fire truth started, common sense highlighted and púshed to the fore. Reality has a firm border and Mr. Price ran into it, face first. Truth and common sense ….don´t live at those instituions. More is coming and they are going to look like fools in the end. An examination of their professional comportment is going to make a laughing stock of them. My Take.

  2. Francis Ingledew
    February 8, 2022 at 06:58

    Thanks CN and Joe Lauria for continuing to fly the flag for actually thinking, the poor flag that has been torn by media crossfire against thinking since (in this context) 2003.

    We face a gigantic challenge, however, namely to keep our footing, our balance, in the face of our interlocutors’ inability to be thoughtful, to which we can add the inability to be honest. To keep our footing, we have to NOT use a single tweet saying “They’ve lost the press” in response to the Ned Price/Matt Lee exchange as proof or illustration of anything whatsoever. This takes something small and makes it bear a weight it cannot. So it looks as if we are desperate. This gets worse when we head in the other direction, and take something huge and make it small, which in my opinion we do when we use those three paragraphs from Tapper recounting administration lies since 2003. Those are some mighty feeble paragraphs: an out-of-focus and lazy rehearsal of low-hanging examples. They do not begin to communicate how lying permeates our political culture at the deadliest and most corrupt levels. Any uninformed reader would get no sense from them of the bottomless well of these lies, made without regard for the destruction they enable. We’ve slipped up here and there is all they’d learn. Those three paragraphs are written by someone not serious.

    I mean my thanks to CN, which I have supported financially, and to Joe Lauria. I hope you understand that I also feel desperate reading this piece. I cringe when we take short-cuts like the use of a tweet that’s neither here nor there as an illustration of anything. Taking short-cuts is what the liars or unthinkers do. That applies to the use of the Matt Lee event in the first place. The last 19 years force me to conclude that that event augurs exactly nothing. I find it disheartening likewise to go to a Jake Tapper for such evidence. We seem kind of needy when he’s who we turn to.

    I wish for more discipline in our own thinking.

    Respectfully,

    Francis

  3. CNfan
    February 8, 2022 at 02:12

    It looks to me highly probable that these MSM reporters are just acknowledging the obvious, things it would make them look dishonest to continue denying. It’s likely a veneer of honesty so they can say, “Yes the government has lied to you again and again, on the gravest matters of war and peace, but you should trust them now”.

    Let’s see them start informing Americans about the US coup in Ukraine that started this whole conflict. Otherwise I’ll continue to estimate they are a a coordinated choir of liars, also coordinated with the military arm of our financial overlords. Who can afford to control and direct the entire corporate press? And most of Congress?

    • Consortiumnews.com
      February 8, 2022 at 03:30

      They found out what it is like to be smeared as an agent of Russia and are very much reacting to that.

  4. Procopius
    February 7, 2022 at 20:25

    Paul Joseph Goebbels, Gauleiter of Berlin, created the Propagandaministerium (Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda). It seems most of the MSM have evolved into the same function. I have to say, since 9/11 they’ve become extremely lazy. “Journalism” is still occasionally practiced (I have to praise the Washington Post’s Afghanistan Papers), but it doesn’t serve a consistent purpose. On the other hand, it never did. Remember William Randolph Hearst, “You send me the photographs, I’ll furnish the war.”

  5. STEPHEN B FRY
    February 7, 2022 at 16:09

    Let’s see NYT and CNN come out in favor of Biden dropping all Assange charges ???

    • Victor
      February 7, 2022 at 21:06

      Will never happen. Asante lost any goodwill from the journalists who used to kiss his ass, the minute he showed his independence, didn’t bow down to the deep state and published the Hillary materials.

      They will never forgive him for that.

  6. Georges Olivier Daudelin
    February 7, 2022 at 13:21

    Je n’accorde aucune crédibilité aux médias mainstreams états-uniens. j’accorderai mon crédit seulement qu’à deux conditions:

    1: Qu’ils défendent de tous leurs moyens et de toutes leurs richesses la liberté de Julian Assange et qu’ils lui fassent des excuses publiques à grand déploiement et à multiples reprises pendant au moins 25 ans.

    2: Qu’ils dénoncent le fascisme de Washington. C’est-à-dire qu’ils doivent utiliser tous leurs moyens et toutes leurs richesses pour diffuser cette réalité:

    ” Tant et aussi longtemps que la constitution et les institutions de Washington ne seront pas totalement rejetées du revers de la main, le fascisme, le militarisme, le racisme, l’affairisme, le cléricalisme, le libéralisme, le nombrilisme et le féodalisme économico-politique resteront à demeure dans cet État voyou, criminel, barbare, tueur, assassin et meurtrier washingtonien.”

  7. Victor
    February 7, 2022 at 12:58

    @Joe

    I like your optimism, but NYT, CNN & co and you guys are in two different lines of work.

    Consortium News are journalists and try to report on the news.

    The mainstream news media otoh are part of the political-industrial power complex.

    They don’t report on the news, they’re part of the perception management industry. Part of the unofficial propaganda ministry, if you will.

    Mainstream news has been increasingly closely tied to the power structure and uniparty since the 90ies, but the final straw and crossing the Rubicon came in 2016, when the mainstream media went into full blown Trump Derangement Syndrome, and decided to go to war against the Trump administration.

    “Russiagate”, a story that just a decade before could have been found on the kind of site that has stories about 9/11 being an inside job, is a suitable epitaph for American journalism in the traditional media.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      February 8, 2022 at 00:59

      “Don’t hold your breath,” is optimism?

  8. February 7, 2022 at 11:13

    You are right, Joe. I won’t hold my breath.

  9. Tony
    February 7, 2022 at 11:00

    “..former C.I.A. official Ned Price”

    Perhaps. But we should not forget that Howard Hunt ‘retired’ from the CIA on several occasions.

  10. Patricia Tursi
    February 7, 2022 at 11:00

    State department follows the same game plan of lies, deceit and manipulation. And we are currently being played for the future of The US and the future of humanity. There may not be a next one.

  11. mgr
    February 7, 2022 at 08:44

    Thank you. Encouraging to hear but much like a flickering candle in a gale.

    “Recognizing that the American government has not always shared credible information and that its statements in such situations should be approached with skepticism…” [Charlie Savage].

    I was trying to think of even one consequential event in the last seventy years or so, not the less one involved in creating a war, where the US “intelligence services” or the current admin, did not deliberately mislead the public. It is simply the modus operandi when government is trying to manipulate public opinion, the public narrative, for a war of convenience or to salvage someone’s political power.

    The fact that mainstream media has lost the imperative of “adversarial journalism” and holding public servants to account means that it is no longer a member of the revered “fourth estate.” It has descended into entertainment-news for the beaten down and is populated by small characters like Louise Mensch and the propornot initiative, the double agents of fake news (government narrative). NYT, WaPo, Guardian, CNN, MSNBC, etc.; two words, “profit driven (above all),” not truth, not integrity, just profit… and just as banal as that sounds.

    • Brian Bixby
      February 8, 2022 at 01:28

      Too often we see the DC establishment adopt the default position to automatically lie, even when there’s no reason to.

  12. Vincent Berg
    February 7, 2022 at 05:38

    Rats deserting the sinking ship. War will refloat it and they’ll jump back on board. In the meantime I’m sure that slavishly backing the disastrous Biden admin hasn’t been particularly good for msm bottom line, so this “controversy” is an attempt to generate clicks. Running out of variations on the Russia!Russia!Russia! ploy (even Maddow is going into hiding), and nearly three years before the advent if Trump 2, they need to do something Now!Now!Now!. Suddenly rediscovering the journalisric responsibility to hold our leaders feet to the fire has absolutely nothing to do with it.

  13. February 7, 2022 at 05:00

    Matt Lee has become the little child who cried out that the Emperor/King had no clothes. Mister Luria’s skepticism that the recent behavior of the mainstream media will be repeated is right on. The synergism between the media and power is too compelling. Each depends on the other.

  14. Randolph Williams
    February 7, 2022 at 04:58

    There are no journalists or reporters in the MSM, i.e. Corporate Media. Community Information Liaison is now the preferred term. Get with the program or the terra-ists win!

  15. February 6, 2022 at 23:35

    Consortium News was founded by Robert Parry in 1995 after he left the Associated Press and Newsweek because he became fed up with the mainstream media for trusting government rather than challenging it. Since that time, including after Parry’s untimely death in 2018, a cornerstone of Consortium News has been demanding evidence from government when they make anonymous claims without proof especially on the gravest matter of taking the United States to war.

  16. Jeff Harrison
    February 6, 2022 at 17:41

    I won’t hold my breath, Joe. The MSM long ago unlearned how to do the what, where, why, when, how and who to fulfill Sgt. Joe Friday’s request – just the facts ma’am. Facts rarely fit narratives.

  17. vinnieoh
    February 6, 2022 at 17:02

    Joe, you and everyone at CN are true patriots, not only responsible cosmopolitans. Outstanding work these last few weeks wherein the bullshit has been coming hot and heavy.

    In 2001 and 2003 what counseled me was a long association with “Skeptical Inquirer” that nurtured in me an ability not only to read critically but to observe critically, understand my latent biases and understand some of the operation of mass persuasion and delusion. I watched in the twelve years between Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the dismantling of Iraq’s ability to produce chemical weapons (thank you Scott Ritter. ) I knew everything being said by our government was a lie, and nothing has gotten any better since then. And yes, my younger brother and I – so very alike – almost became estranged over “Russiagate.”

    If anything that has transpired here may yet alter the hare-brained course we’re on, then I may yet regain some of the optimism of my younger life.

    Keep up the good work, and – THANK YOU.

    • Linda Furr
      February 7, 2022 at 13:57

      AND during that period between Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, the Clinton Administration placed sanctions on products necessary to provide Iraq’s people clean water to a population (having destroyed Iraq’a national water system via Desert Storm). This info should still be found by googling:

      Dr. Thomas Nagle; Iraq’s destroyed water system; US sanctions; Catholic Monitor

  18. robert e williamson jr
    February 6, 2022 at 16:34

    It is about time somebody woke up. Far too many reporting journalists are compromised by their superiors who demand they behave as the obsequious sycophant.

    All for wealth and fame there can much honor in what they spend most of their careers doing.

    The investigative press have any future now would be a great time to start a legitimate news service. Everything is in place, all that needs to be done is to make reporting facts mandatory. Otherwise it should be considered folderol.

    Thanks CN

  19. Piotr Berman
    February 6, 2022 at 16:20

    To understand the way of thinking that seems predominant in media and perhaps even in the inner circles of power in USA and many other countries, we need to study the attitudes fostered by education systems and popular culture. The following citation that can be found searching for “deranged sorority girl email full text”. Mind you, the young women who made waves when her e-mail she wrote to her sorority sisters went public and viral is not so much deranged as angry and frank, but her attitude is the good explanation for group think described in this article. Below every ellipsis should be understood as a word associated, in this context, with deep negative emotions:

    I’ve gotten texts about people actually cheering for the opposing team. The opposing. …. Team. ARE YOU … STUPID?!! I don’t give a … about sportsmanship, YOU CHEER FOR OUR GODDAMN TEAM AND NOT THE OTHER ONE, HAVE YOU NEVER BEEN TO A SPORTS GAME? ARE YOU … BLIND? Or are you just so … dense about what it means to make people like you that you think being a good little supporter of the Greek community is going to make our matchup happy? Well it’s time someone told you, NO ONE … LIKES THAT,

    Clearly, the rebuke from Ned Price has the subtext: “Do you cheer for the opposing team” and everything that follows above. Socratic dialogue is not what makes people like you, what allows to make a carrier with good salary or even to practice making babies (hard if nobody likes you, and apparently the chief concern of the writer of the letter).

  20. February 6, 2022 at 16:09

    “Recognizing that the American government has not always shared credible information and that its statements in such situations should be approached with skepticism is different from equating the United States to ISIS or to Russia.”

    This statement comes off less like a statement on assessing factual merit or plausibility on a case-by-case basis (e.g., there may indeed be times that it is inappropriate to connote US actions with those of Russia or the Islamic State, and vice-versa). Rather, it comes off more like the statement of someone trying to circumscribe discourse to an Overton window in order not to have their own sentimental notions about the core decency of their government, society, and its constituents troubled (on the corollary assumption that, e.g., the US Intelligence Community, the Pentagon, and various other institutions of power today share overarching values in common with the noble if fundamentally flawed vision of Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and Co.).

    I hate to break it to Mr. Savage, but I am afraid the reality seems far more dismal:

    whitmanwire.com/opinion/2021/02/25/if-biden-is-committed-to-the-first-amendment-he-must-stop-the-persecution-of-julian-assange/#comment-1099811

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